McCarthy Does Mumblecore.
That’s my three-word review of Melissa McCarthy’s new comedy “Tammy,” an oft-turgid wallow in sentiment and icky embarrassing humor. It’s still got some genuine laughs, and is buoyed by McCarthy’s winning screen presence. It’s not a long movie at 96 minutes, yet you could easily chop a half-hour out of it and have a winner.
Mumblecore, for those not into zero-budget indie films, is epitomized by rambling dialogue that has the appearance of being ad-libbed. Its influence on mainstream comedy is clear to see, though usually it’s punky young guys — think Jonah Hill or Michael Cera — with the verbal diarrhea.
After an impressive string of hits, including “The Heat” and “Identity Thief,” McCarthy is currently sitting in the unlikely catbird’s seat as Hollywood’s most consistently bankable star over the last few years. She’s running the show on her projects, and has decided to team up with her husband Ben Falcone, who co-wrote the screenplay with her and makes his directing debut.
He frequently turns up in her movies as her beau, though here he just has a bit part as the jerk boss at the Topper Jack’s burger joint where she works.
The result of their collaboration is a raunchy road trip comedy starring McCarthy and Susan Sarandon as her grandmother. They have some fairly predictable misadventures, some romantic hook-ups, binge drinking and petty larceny.
In the end, we all Learn Something — in this case, that McCarthy had better find some new material if she wants to keep her streak alive.
The story starts off with an epic bad day for Tammy. Living in tiny Murphysboro, Ill., she crashes her ancient Corolla into a deer on the way to work, then gets fired for being late. Arriving home unexpectedly early, she’s surprised to find her husband (Nat Faxon) serving an elegant dinner to his mistress (Toni Collette). Tammy promptly packs her stuff and decamps to her parents’ place, two doors down.
“You never cooked me dinner!” she shrieks. “And it smells good, too!”
But her mom, played by Allison Janney, is something of a pill. Tammy’s grandmother, Pearl (Sarandon), lives with her but has had enough, so the pair take off for an impromptu jaunt for parts unknown with $6,700 of grandma’s cash as their stake.
It’s sort of a Thelma & Louise thing, with a cross-generational twist.
The ages of the actresses don’t exactly sync up, with less than a quarter-century dividing them all — McCarthy is only 11 years younger than Janney, who in turn is only 13 years Sarandon’s junior. It is rather strange to see Sarandon, whose potent sexual presence has lit up screens for four decades, doing the cranky oldster routine complete with puffy feet from diabetes.
The running joke is that Tammy is the hard-partying cutup of the family, but Granny Pearl is at least her equal despite her prim outward appearance. She’s a nasty drunk, supplies teenagers with beer and boasts of having been an Allman Brothers groupie.
Kathy Bates and Sandra Oh turn up late in the game as wealthy lesbian friends of Pearl’s, who help them out when they’re on the lam from the law. Bates lights up her scenes, feisty yet down-to-earth, and has one emotional crescendo that feels like it belongs in another movie.
Actually, most of “Tammy” feels like it belongs in another flick. McCarthy may be all that as a screen comedienne, but she and her hubby needed to run their screenplay through the spin cycle a few more times.